Situated in the Lesser Antilles, this nation comprises both the eponymous islands and a number of smaller islets. With its warm, equatorial climate and miles of sunny Caribbean coastline, Antigua and Barbuda has been a major tourist destination for decades.
Native American groups including the Ciboney, the Arawaks, and the Caribs have inhabited Antigua and Barbuda since at least 2900 BCE; the Arawakan name for Antigua, Wadadli, is still commonly used by locals. They were among the first islands discovered by Columbus during his second voyage in 1493, after which Antigua and Barbuda became possessions of Spain. The country went through a period of French rule before finally passing to the English, who instituted large-scale commercial sugar farming powered by intensive slave labor. This period saw a major demographic shift in the islands, as the ravages of slavery and newly-introduced diseases nearly wiped out the native population. Thousands of West African slaves were imported to replace indigenous labor, and became the ancestors of the majority of Antigua and Barbuda’s people. Slavery was abolished in 1832, and the country gained a degree of administrative freedom in 1967, but did not attain full independence until 1981.
Today Antigua and Barbuda is a federal parliamentary democracy, and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the Caribbean Community. The majority of its roughly 85,000 people live on Antigua, the largest and most developed of the Leeward Islands. Tourism is the predominant industry, earning more than half the country’s GDP, and supported by Antigua’s many pristine beaches and quality seaside resorts. The capital, St. John’s, is renowned for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and excellent shopping, and is also a regional financial hub, with branch offices of several major international banks. Barbuda is much smaller, with only around 1,500 residents, and a local economy dominated by sand mining; it attracts a small, but steady stream of visitors, most of them ecotourists and vacationers seeking a quieter, more isolated environment than fast-paced St. John’s.
Antigua’s thriving economy and plentiful job prospects have attracted many immigrants from surrounding Caribbean nations in the past few decades; there are also small groups of immigrants from East Asia and the Middle East. In addition, the island is home to one of the largest communities of US citizens in the East Caribbean. Although an increasing number of Antiguans are choosing to live abroad, the country’s pleasant tropical climate and safe, fairly crime-free society have made it a very popular destination among retirees and wealthy Westerners, and a number of celebrities own vacation homes here.
English is the official language of Antigua and Barbuda, spoken by the majority of the populace, and all government and education is done in the Standard British dialect. In addition, many locals speak Antiguan Creole, a distinct language combining English and African influences; learning a few phrases might be a good way to impress friends back home. Spanish has many speakers as well, mostly among immigrants from the Dominican Republic.